Irish humanitarian aid agency, GOAL, has welcomed the announcement that almost one million Venezuelan migrants living in Colombia will be given new protected legal status.
The announcement was made this week by Colombian President, Iván Duque. He said the protected status, which will be for ten years, will allow the Venezuelan migrants to “normalize” into life in Colombia.
Over five million Venezuelans have left their homeland in recent years due to numerous economic and political crises. Basic supplies such as food, medicine and fuel are in short supply.
Colombia has taken in the biggest share of Venezuelans. Up to 1.7 million Venezuelan migrants are estimated to reside in the county, with over half not having legal status. When the migrants arrive in Colombia, their most urgent needs are food, shelter, and income supports.
GOAL is currently operating in Colombia, helping thousands of Venezuelans to support themselves and their families. The agency is providing support to migrant communities.
Many of the communities are located in disaster-prone areas, at high risk of flooding and landslides. In addition to mitigation projects, GOAL is helping communities recover economically. With funding from USAID and BHA, the NGO is providing training, technical assistance, and capital assistance to help individuals build resilient livelihoods.
The NGO is also supporting individuals who have set up their own businesses. One is Ines Flores, (54), who arrived in Colombia in 2016. In her efforts to survive she began to sell cakes and other baked good in the informal market. GOAL has provided her with cash to invest in her business and buy supplies.
She says: “With this cash assistance I have been able to undertake more work as I can buy more supplies and grow my business.”
This new status will allow migrants like Ines find formal employment and access healthcare.
Colombia has been hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic with over 2 million cases and 56,000 deaths. Venezuelan migrants have seen their already dire situation compounded by the pandemic with many work opportunities closed and cramped living conditions has allowed the disease to spread rapidly.
GOAL Regional Director for Latin America, Bernard McCaul, said: “With so many of the migrants not having legal status, they are unable to find work and so rely on the informal economy. They often end up living in precarious conditions, often sleeping on the streets with little or no access to basic services. This new measure is very welcome.”
“We are grateful for this decision made by the Colombian government which will leverage our actions together with the National Federation of Sellers. It will increase our ability to help migrants, returnees, and vulnerable host communities access formal jobs and to develop formal businesses.”
UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi praised the decision. He described it as a “historic gesture” and “emblematic for the region, even for the whole world”.